They Won't Forget

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They Won't Forget
They Won't Forget poster.jpg
Directed byMervyn LeRoy (credited as "A Mervyn LeRoy Production")
Produced byMervyn LeRoy
Jack L. Warner
Written byRobert Rossen
Aben Kandel
Based onDeath in the Deep South
1936 novel
by Ward Greene
StarringClaude Rains
Gloria Dickson
Edward Norris
Lana Turner
Music byAdolph Deutsch
CinematographyArthur Edeson
Edited byThomas Richards
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
July 14, 1937
Running time
95 min
CountryUnited States

They Won't Forget is a 1937 American drama film directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring Claude Rains, Gloria Dickson, Edward Norris, and Lana Turner, in her feature debut. It was based on a novel by Ward Greene called Death in the Deep South, which was in turn a fictionalized account of a real-life case: the trial and subsequent lynching of Leo Frank after the murder of Mary Phagan in 1913.


A southern town is rocked by scandal when teenager Mary Clay is murdered on Confederate Memorial Day. A district attorney with political ambitions, Andrew Griffin, sees the crime as his way to the Senate if he can find the right scapegoat to be tried for the crime. He seeks out Robert Hale, Mary's teacher at the business school where she was killed. Even though all evidence against Hale is circumstantial, Hale happens to be from New York (Leo Frank was a Southerner from Texas, but he was Jewish and had been raised in New York), and Griffin works with reporter William Brock to create a media frenzy of prejudice and hatred against the teacher. The issue moves from innocence or guilt to the continuing bigotry and suspicion between South and North, especially given the significance of the day of the murder.

The film shows the immense pressures brought to bear on members of the community to help in the conviction – the black janitor who is induced to lie on the stand for fear he himself will be convicted if Hale is found innocent; the juror who is the sole holdout to a guilty verdict; and the barber who is afraid to testify to something he knows because it could exonerate Hale. Michael Gleason, Hale's lawyer, does his best, but Hale is convicted and sentenced to death.

The governor of the state, with the support of his wife, decides to commit political suicide by commuting Hale's death sentence to life imprisonment because the evidence is simply insufficient to send a man to his death. The townsfolk are enraged, and the murdered girl's brothers, who have been threatening all along to take matters into their own hands if Hale is not executed, plot and carry out Hale's abduction and lynching with the help of a vengeful mob.

Afterward, Hale's widow goes to Griffin's office to return a check he had sent her to help her out, telling him he cannot soothe his conscience that way. As he and Brock watch her leave the building, Brock wonders if Hale was guilty. Griffin replies without much concern, "I wonder."[1]


Critical reception[edit]

Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times called the film "a brilliant sociological drama and a trenchant film editorial against intolerance and hatred."[1] gave the film five out of five stars.

Other versions[edit]

The story was also dramatized in 1987 as a four-hour television miniseries entitled The Murder of Mary Phagan, written by Larry McMurtry and starring Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Rebecca Miller, Cynthia Nixon and William H. Macy.


  1. ^ a b Frank S. Nugent (July 15, 1937). "They Won't Forget (1937)". The New York Times.

External links[edit]